2016 Cars: Tailored to Your Liking

The auto market is getting more crowded with new brands and models. That may make for a tougher decision when buying, but it means you can get just what you want.

December 1, 2015

It wasn’t all that long ago that shopping for a new car was relatively simple. There were a handful of brands offering a pretty simple lineup of sedans, coupes, and wagons, with a pickup truck for the handyman and perhaps an SUV for a rugged outdoorsman.

These days, it’s gotten complicated. Chevrolet, easily the most mainstream of brands, offers more than two dozen different models — and that’s not including the dozens of powertrains and other options. At the other extreme is luxury marque Mercedes-Benz. Back in the 1980s, it offered just a mid-size E-Class, the top-line S-Class, and the SL sports car. Today, the German maker has nearly 20 different models, and that doesn’t include extreme variants such as its AMG performance packages or the ultra-exclusive S600 Maybach.

All told, there are approximately 250 distinct product lines on the market — a figure even the experts can’t quite agree on — and more than 800 models when you include all their variants. But, if anything, expect the market to get even more crowded.

Take Hyundai: It’s about to launch an all-new luxury brand, dubbed Genesis, as well as a new line of performance models. Apple is rumored to be readying its own “iCar.” And several Chinese manufacturers are now eyeing the American market.

“Automakers are racing to fill in all the white spaces,” suggests Dave Sullivan, a senior automotive analyst with consultancy AutoPacific Inc. No one wants to leave open an opportunity for a competitor. That’s why you have coupe-like sedans and sedan-like coupes, as well as strange hybrid designs that are half sports car, half sport-utility vehicle.

There are more powertrain options than ever before, too. There are basic gas engines, turbocharged engines, hybrids, plug-ins, and pure battery-electric vehicles. By this time next year, there’ll be at least three hydrogen fuel-cell vehicles as well. The range of choices can be overwhelming, warns Sullivan, but it also means you’re more likely to find a vehicle that’s exactly right for you.

Today’s vehicles also offer higher quality than ever. Vehicles at the top of the chart — from brands such as Lexus, Porsche, Buick and, yes, Hyundai — are likely to roll out of the factory with few, if any, problems. The ones they will have are likely to be minor at worst. The era of faulty transmissions and blown engines is largely a thing of the past.

The gap is a bit wider when it comes to long-term reliability. But even here, the old rules no longer apply. The latest vehicle dependability study from Consumer Reports found that Lexus and Toyota led the pack, but there were some European, Korean, and American brands among the top 10 brands as well.

That’s good news because new-car prices have risen significantly over the last decade. The average vehicle now goes for close to $35,000, according to data tracking service TrueCar.com. That likely explains why Americans are keeping their cars longer than ever. Indeed, the average car on the road today is more than 11 years old, something that couldn’t have happened without the sharp improvement in automotive quality and reliability.

Paul A. Eisenstein is publisher of The Detroit Bureau. He has more than 30 years of experience covering the auto industry for a broad range of print, broadcast, and electronic media.